When trying to illustrate how much a team is struggling, one of sportswriters’ favorite go-to’s is, “If the season ended today…” As in, “If the season ended today, the Miami Heat would need to win two play-in games only to face the team that beat them in 2022 in the first round.”
Another way to say a team isn’t great is with numbers. Like, “Miami is dead last in the NBA in scoring.” Or, “Kyle Lowry hasn’t averaged this few assists since he was in Houston.” Age and player development — or in the Heat’s case, player maximization — could factor in. “Jimmy Butler isn’t getting any younger, and Miami’s next duo up of Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro doesn’t seem to have any more leaps to take.”
All of this is true in South Beach, and nobody wants to write off the Heat yet because of the culture and the coach. They were 16-12 after 28 games last season, and at 13-15, they’re not far off record-wise. It’s still realistic that guile, Erik Spoelstra, and organizational stability could turn this around and get a top-four seed.
They’re probably not catching Boston or Milwaukee though, and any dream of a return to the conference or NBA finals will be considerably harder than beating Atlanta and Philly to get there. The defense is top five, and they’ve had to lean into it because scoring is a chore right now.
They attempt the eighth most threes per game, but are 24th in the NBA in shooting percentage from deep. Their three-point rate — essentially how much of the offense comes from distance — also is eighth in the league. If 41 percent of all your shots come from three and you hit just 34 percent of them, it’s a recipe for a dead-last offense.
Of Miami’s top five guys in three-point attempts, only one is hitting at a clip above the .355 league average, and that’s Herro, who’s shooting 37.7 percent. However, that’s 22 points less than last year. While he’s dealt with some injury issues, he’s now starting. Other aspects of production are up — assists, rebounds, two-point percentage, minutes — but he’s actually taking fewer shots in his new role.
Herro also could be falling prey to the Julius Randle “you have our attention, now earn our respect” phenomenon that happens once a player gets on the radar of defenses. Opponents are focusing more of their energy on Herro, who’s seeing guys within two to four feet on half of his shots, up six percent from last year. And his open looks have been cut in half, too, down to 2.5 from five.
Adebayo has actually usurped Herro as Miami’s No. 2 scorer, getting 20 points per night for the first time in his six-year career. It comes with a caveat, as his playmaking from the center position that we love has dropped off. He was up to 5.4 dimes per contest in 2020, good for second on the team. That number is now at 3.3, and he’s fourth in assists for Miami.
In general, the Heat have struggled with ball movement. Following three years of finishing no lower than 11th in assists per game, Miami is 21st. Adebayo actually leads the team in iso points, but only because Butler has missed 10 games already.
Lowry is supposed to be the designated playmaker — at least that’s what he’s getting paid $28 million to do. He’s averaging 36 minutes, one off his career high, and has appeared in 27 of the 28 contests. And, like his assist numbers, his point production hasn’t been this bad since he was a Rocket. Whenever his hammy gives way — and it will — the backup is Gabe Vincent, a point guard by designation only.
We’re used to the Heat manifesting role players out of the D league, and the likes of Max Strus, Duncan Robinson, and Vincent are maxed out if not regressing to the mean. Robinson, the team’s fourth highest-paid player, gets all of 16 minutes per game, Vincent is shooting 39 percent from the floor, and Strus is getting 13 points in 32 minutes per night.
I like Caleb Martin, too, but Martin and Max playing 65 minutes total per outing are depressing as fuck. Sure, Jimmy Buckets is himself when he’s out there. He might not have picked the best year to be a jackass on class photo day, but that’s a choice he has to live with. Like the front office has to live with paying Herro, Robinson, Lowry, and Adebayo a combined $107 million next year.
The only difference between the Chicago Bulls — one of the saddest teams in the league — and Miami is an annoying narrative and a game in the standings. Spoelstra has more problems than solutions, and no amount of calisthenics or culture is going to solve the riddle of old age or a lack of talent.
So there are myriad ways to say Miami is in trouble, and I’m pretty sure I state damn near every which one.